The Times and Time (to Read)

2013-10-13 11.31.46

I only read the Saturday and Sunday edition of the New York Times – it’s all I can manage. Delivered early in the mornings to my driveway, folded neatly in a long blue bag, this is one of my favorite treats of the week. Getting it over two days gives me a head-start on what can seem a mountain of newsprint. I start by pulling out all the adverts along with the Sports and Auto sections since I almost never read anything in either. I take at least a brief look at every article in the day’s news, not reading every single article, but at least getting the gist. It’s important to me to have at least a good sense of what’s going on in the world.

The Book Review gets a once-over to see what’s being reviewed before I set it aside for a thorough read later. I like to know what customers will be looking for in the store this week and if any of the books I’m reading made it. I keep eyeing the Donna Tartt Advanced Reader Copy that’s in our freebie stack in the break room. I always pick her stuff up with curiosity but have yet to feel compelled to read any – always a bit too weird for my taste. Although today’s Review  makes her latest more intriguing, I see that Stephen King reviews it, affirming for me that it’s probably not my thing. I mean, there’s only so much time…

Back to the newspaper: of course I read all the fun stuff, Arts and Leisure – all the wonderful goings-on in the city I don’t go to. Same with the Travel Section, because with a kid in college ($) I have to be (and kind of am) content to get my travel thrills vicariously. I  am particularly fond of pieces where the writing about the food in a place is also terrific – a double pleasure. Unless there’s an article I find compelling, I’ll save the magazine section for later in the week or to read in bed along with the Book Review. I try and get through the Week in Review, reading my favorite columnists’ pieces. Now that they’ve ‘themed’ this section – it’s easier for me to skip through quickly if I’m not compelled by the week’s topic.2013-10-13 11.33.35

Reading the New York Times requires a lot of time. And meanwhile, my books (never mind my own writing, the laundry, the garden and my man) call to me. I have 3 going now. My Life in France by Julia Child is the book of choice in the One Town, One Book where the bookstore is located and I hope to come up with some charming way for us to participate. The book is delightful – just like Julia. What a joyful woman she was.

Clean by David Sheff tends to fall to the bottom of my current reads – where years ago, I would have felt an urgency for this important and helpful book, now I read it with more detachment. While still moved, since I am no longer dealing with an emergency of my own, it can wait. I still want to know and understand the insanity that destroyed my husband so I suspect that although I’ve borrowed this from work, I will probably end up buying it. Sheff writes beautifully about living and coping with your loved one’s addiction.

Night Film by Marish Pessl, author is a fat one – dubbed a literary thriller. Not usually my kind of thing as I’ve already noted – so I contradict myself here – especially as it’s compared to a Stephen King thriller. I picked this up because I am interested when publishers really get behind a book like they did this. So far, it hasn’t really taken off as I think they hoped – but who knows with these things. When it comes to choosing from my current 3 in-progress reads, this is the one I go for first. It’s entertaining, I want to know what happens next. There’s a racing pulse to the story that keeps it moving. My gripe about the book is that every page has an average of 8-10 italicized words. Every page. Throughout the book. I’m reading the ARC so I thought, surely this nonsense will be edited out. It feels so amateurish and irritating. Nope. This strange tic is still there. (you get the idea) Am I missing something? What’s the point? But otherwise, I’m enjoying the story narrated by a feckless journalist who, with two sidekicks he picks up along the way, becomes obsessed with finding answers about the death of the daughter of a mysterious director of dark, horror films. It includes ‘documentation’ – photos and news clippings that are kind of nice side-note. We’re talking New York Post here, not New York Times, okay?

Meanwhile, intriguing new books arrive in the store daily, enticing me even as the older ones I keep meaning to read, beckon. How will I ever get to them? I marvel at my friend Nina Sankovitch‘s discipline in reading a book a day and writing about it (same day!) for a year as she recounted in her beautiful memoir, Tolstoy and the Purple Chair. Some tips: don’t turn on the television, and read everywhere.

Artists’ Retreat 2013

The idea started on my visit with Jane in England a few years ago. It had been a long time since we’d seen each other since we lived an ocean apart and were both juggling our hectic lives as mothers with full time jobs. Lingering for hours over drinks on the roof of the Tate and then again around her massive wooden kitchen table,  we spoke of more than just our present lives dominated by beloved kids. We remembered who we were many years ago as art students together. Then and still, we were travelers, artists with rich and active inner lives. We just needed to remember. With our shared history, we recognized this in each other and spoke for hours about our too-often neglected creative process and how we had become overwhelmed by dishes, laundry, making a living, struggling in our marriages (in my case anyway!). Energized and inspired by each other, we decided we must fan these creative coals.

“Wouldn’t it be fantastic to rent a house together, with …” I rattled the names of women who had also studied with us decades earlier. “We could paint and write all day and have great dinners at night with lots of wine.”

“Let’s do it!” Jane agreed.

And so we did.

That summer, about a dozen of us kin-spirit women gathered for a week in a rambling old house in the Catskills. We christened ourselves the Studio 70 Sisters – after our art teacher Mike Skop’s school in Kentucky, the place where we’d connected decades earlier.  Jane came from England as promised, others from Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. We stepped away from our busy lives as mothers, spouses, workers, and for the rich communion with familiar, creative friends. Days were spent doing what ever we wanted — some went off painting together, others spent time alone, reading and in my case, writing.

Evenings we gathered in the kitchen sharing wine and recipes and remarkable, delicious dinners came together effortlessly and went on for hours. Afterwards, we moved to the living room to talk some more. For one week together, merely by being present and paying attention to each other, we felt nurtured.

We met at some rambling house in the Catskills for 3 years in a row.  We missed last summer but are on again for this year. Today we will all converge on a little town in Litchfield County. Laura found this year’s spot and generously organized a week of possibilities including the promise of some Renaissance music, maybe some yoga, maybe a massage…

Doesn’t this sound like bliss to you?

Anniversary of a Premature Birth in Italy

ostuniEighteen years ago, my beautiful daughter was born in a white-washed little village located just above the heel of the boot of Italy. She emerged on a blazing hot and sunny Tuesday around 4:30 PM. Everyone in Ostuni was still siesta-groggy.

In retrospect, I understand that I’d probably been in labor at least since the night before, but until my doctor peered at the state of my cervix, smacked the side of his head and said ‘ba fungul’ like a cliche, Italian cartoon character, I was in utter denial that my baby might be born 7 weeks ahead of schedule.

We’d already decided that she would not be born in Italy. The plan was, I’d travel in a few weeks to the flat we’d rented in Oxford, England, not far from where my husband was from. I’d spend my long summer days taking a Lamaze class where I’d learn correct breathing technique, indulge in fish-and-chips, wander in bookstores and libraries in search of a perfect girl’s name. And I’d read – spoiled by the abundance of books in English. And I’d wait. In England.

While welcome (no: celebrated!) my pregnancy was not easy. For most of it, I was in Croatia fighting bouts of nausea brought on by the insidious smell of vinegar and cabbage. The war that brought me to the Balkans 4 years earlier with UN Peacekeeping, saw some definitive battles that year, (1995) eventually ending the conflict with a bang. In late spring of 1995, shells were lobbed at Zagreb city, and each time, I lumbered down the 17 flights of stairs from my office to take cover in the building’s garage. A month earlier, I’d been catapulted through the sky on a particularly rocky helicopter ride that rode the crest of the famous “Bora” wind. So I welcomed the early maternity leave offered to me by UNICEF and the chance to join my husband at his new, plum job in Brindisi, Italy.

The villa he’d found in Ostuni was lovely, surrounded by fruit trees and roses and I was tempted to revamp plans and just have my baby there – but Chloe, the Oxford based midwife I hoped would deliver my baby, suggested that I might as well return to Sarajevo if I was going to consider giving birth in Southern Italy – that it wasn’t much better. A visit to the teeny, run-down looking Ostuni hospital cemented our decision to stick with our plan for me to go to England. Flat was rented and plane tickets purchased. My due date was August 1. I’d leave Italy at the end of June to leave enough time to settle in.

At first I ignored the bouts of cramping on Monday evening. When they continued through the night, I called Chloe in the morning. She suggested the baby’s head might be settling into position but I should certainly call my doctor. I would – later. I hated feeling like a moron when making phone calls in baby Italian. It was awkward trying to make myself understood and painful to follow someone blathering on at the end of the phone. My husband went to work in the morning – but called me every hour and finally, hurried home around lunchtime. By this time, I could barely get out of bed. I remember I was reading a very bleak novel set in the Eritrean war and had to constantly flatten the splayed paperback on the bed as yet another pounding cramp ripped through me.

My husband, much more confident about faking his way through languages he didn’t really speak, called the doctor who instructed us to come to his office in a few hours – after siesta. Traveling the 5 minutes to his office by car was excruciating. I couldn’t sit, but rather crawled into the back seat, dizzy watching the clouds spin by through the back window as we sped through the narrow streets of the town. In the waiting room, I stretched across the pleather seats, not caring about the other patients stares as I moaned. Quickly, we jumped the queue and quicker, were told by the doctor to drive to the nearby hospital.

Brindisi Hospital 1995
Brindisi Hospital 1995

In a salmon pink room that reeked of antiseptic, the pretty Italian nurses undressed me while giving me a crash course in breathing (in Italian) then, wheeling me into the small surgery room. After a two few intense pushes, my daughter was born. That’s it. That was the birth. Within minutes, she was being tapped and prodded on a table to my right.

I craned my neck to see her. The doctors and nurses had unsuccessfully tried to shoo my husband into another room, but he would not budge beyond the doorway and now gave me a blow by blow – telling me she was gorgeous, her legs were so long, she has my eyes. Beyond the doctor’s back – I could only catch a glimpse of her weirdly-moving limbs and tiny rib cage. Wrapping her up, the doctors told me they’d need to take her to the larger hospital in Brindisi. My husband told me he’d follow the ambulance. I was left with the nurses who pattered on in Italian while they stitched me up. All of this happened within 30 minutes.

It was night when I woke in a room with big iron beds that seemed plucked from an old movie set. The other beds were festooned with either pink or blue balloons celebrating the births of healthy babies. My bed in the corner by the window, had none. Most of the women appeared to be asleep but the young mother in the bed next to mine spoke some English. Pulling myself upright, I told her I needed to find out about my baby and she insisted I borrow her slippers – feather adorned, heeled slippers that were at least 2 sizes too small for me. Clutching the back of my hospital gown closed behind me, bleeding and achy, I waddled down the hall to find a telephone.

In my sorry Italian, I tried to explain to the nurse on duty that I needed to call Brindisi Hospital or my husband to find out about my bambina. The nurse put her hands in prayer position and cocked her head to one side to mime sleep. “Domani,” she repeated, ushering me gently back towards my room. I spotted a pay phone but remembered I had no change nor did I know what numbers to call – not even my own. My head low, I clip-clopped back down the hall, past the life size statue of the Virgin Mary, her light-bulb halo casting a strange glow against the ceiling.

My premie - day 1
My premie – day 1

Mumbling thanks to my neighbor, I stepped out of her silly slippers and she cooed sleepy  reassurances. I stepped barefoot across the tiles to my bed by the window and crawled between the sheets, weeping silently, praying to the sky. A full moon emerging just over the tree tops sent a silver light shimmering through the warped glass windowpanes, bathing my face, my arms limp over the starched linens. As this mystical glow washed over me, so did peace. I knew my daughter would be fine.

Home from the Hospital  Six Weeks Later - July 1995
Home from the Hospital
Six Weeks Later – July 1995

Internet Love-Hate and A Future in Goats

imagesPygmy goats. That’s the latest idea R and I kicked around over brunch at a diner yesterday. They’re adorable creatures and of course, small enough that we might even be able to get started on our .24 acreage in this urban-suburban town. We could make soap and cheese.

There’s great inspiration for other ways to live, to be found in cyberspace. This wonderful blogger in England who left the rat-race and made a lovely life for herself and her beloved cows is one of my favorite. And thank you, Eileen, for reminding me about The Fabulous Beekman Boys and their goats. They certainly made a go of it.

With the book business being in such turmoil, I’d be foolish not to think about other options, even if they are mostly fantastical at this point. (health insurance from the pygmy goat association?) Commerce continues to move online. How can booksellers, writers, musicians, travel agents and, as you’ll see, to a lesser extent, even auto mechanics make a living these days?

How can a store be sustainable with the internet, in the age of the ravenous AMAZON? Just last week a customer rudely reamed me over the phone when I told him that the price of his book would indeed cost more if he bought the book in the store instead of  online. I get how that seems crazy to a customer – but then again, if you want bookstores, you need to support them. Since the days when we were considered the big bad wolf of the industry, I have said that it is the customer who has the power, who makes the choice to shop one place rather than another. We sustain a store or not.

If people don’t care about stores, if they care more about saving a few dollars, then the store will go away. We can shop at the little guys and even in a big chain like Stop and Shop and Home Depot, we can choose the human over the self-checkout.  We are still people who work in these places – and some of us, many in my place, have a fierce love for the products we sell. I refuse to shop at Amazon, preferring Ebay and Overstock or Craig’s List for my bargains. It bugs me that so many authors websites and blogs link to Amazon for their books. Amazon sells cameras and vacuum cleaners — of course they can undercut everybody else.

Electronic books have made it even tougher to sustain bricks and mortar. The price points of books is so low already and the measly profit must then be cut up and shared by author, publisher, vendor.

So, over eggs benedict at the diner yesterday, I pondered with R, how to make a living in this crazy computer age? What jobs will be left to us? The waitress brought us our check. She was a little older than me. Waitressing was my first job at sixteen and I did it through college and beyond. The thought of ever again rattling off a list of salad dressings, makes me cringe. But I could do it. Food depends on people. So there — we are back to goat cheese.

In the parking lot, R’s Jeep wouldn’t start. He put the key in the ignition and nothing happened. The lights came on, the radio worked, but the engine did not even groan. I called AAA for a tow. Then, on a whim, I googled, “Jeep Cherokee key won’t work in ignition” on my IPhone and read through the comments. “Hit key with rubber mallet when in ignition”. R reached into the back seat (his office) and grabbed a hammer and whacked the key and turned it. The car started. I called AAA and canceled the tow order and laughing, we pulled out of the parking lot, marveling at the wonders of the world-wide-web. We’ll have to have a really great site for our goat products…

Off the Couch



Do you ever wake up with great intentions to be productive – for me that meant writing, cleaning, organizing – and then spend most of the day lolly-gagging? This was the kind of morning and early afternoon I had. For a start, my blogging intentions went down the drain – instead I spent my morning reading dubious internet news and gossip. Waiting for the kettle to boil for another cup of tea, I chiseled away at the weekend New York Times.

Outside, even though the sky was blue-blue like it hadn’t been all week, the wind howled. The house felt chilly so I pulled blankets over me and picked up the book I’ve been reading, Canada by Richard Ford. I wish I could say I loved it — but it was a bit of a shlog. Still, I wanted to know what happened to Dell, the narrator. I gave myself permission to skip over the draggy bits. More than once I thought I’d lost my place, that I was rereading something I’d already read but that’s just the way Ford wrote it. Anyway, done with that.

At this point, with the sun was pouring in and warming the corner of the couch where I sat, Tetley, cuddled up next to me, I thought I might snooze. But then the pooch began to paw me, asking to go out.


I bundled up against what sounded like a bitter wind, clicked Tetley’s leash on and headed out where it turned out to be gorgeous. The wind was indeed whipping, but the warmth of the sun made it feel good. I took a route through wind protected streets, enjoying the shadows and the fresh air.


Walking briskly with my beloved dog, the air filling my lungs, I looked around my neighborhood, marveled at the light, the knotted vines and felt glad for this winter day and that I got off the couch.


Joy at the DMV

I had the day off today. I spent a few hours of my morning at the DMV. (Department of Motor Vehicles) I can hear your cyber-empathy – but I assure you, I had a lovely time. For slightly more than 2 hours while I waited to register my daughter’s newly-bought-but-very- old-car, I read.

What else was I to do? Gab loudly on the phone like the obnoxious lady sitting amongst us? Continually groan and sigh in exasperation like countless others? Stare up at the television screen full of DMV fun facts? (I was too busy reading my book to catch any – sorry.) I felt grateful for this time to just sit and READ. Rare bliss, these busy days.

I try and read before bed but rarely make it past a few pages before conking out. I rarely mind waiting for Molly when I have to pick her up from somewhere, as long as I have a book — but I guess I won’t have those stolen moments any longer now that she’ll have her own wheels. My friend Nina Sankovitch knows about reading everywhere and anywhere, having read  (and written about!) a book a day for a year. Read about her remarkable journey in her memoir, Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading. 

I am half-way through this year’s National Book Award winner by Louise Erdrich, The Roundhouse and am very fond Joe, the 13 year old narrator. He’s the kind of son I would hope for were I to have had a son rather than my perfect daughter. The novel has a beautiful tension, some suspense and sentences you’ll want to read twice. I read and read again this sentence while standing in line to get my number so I could go sit and wait some more: “When you are little, you do not know that you are screaming or crying–your feelings and the sound that comes out of you is all one thing.”

To add to my delight, (yes, I am talking about my hours spent at the DMV) when my number D269 was announced with directions to proceed to window 17, a youngish man — early 30s tops — who reminded me of science fiction guys who regularly browse that  section of my store, asked me what I was reading. While he processed my paperwork, barely glancing at it before handing over a spanking fresh set of license plates, we talked about books. We don’t read the same stuff – he’s a horror and as I guessed, sci-fi reader – but it didn’t matter. We recognized our book-kinship and spent what might have been inconsequential or even irritating moments of bureaucracy, connecting and raving about reading.  On my way out, book and plates tucked under my arm, I passed the long line of dour faces with a grin on mine.


Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers:

%d bloggers like this: